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Sensory Tricks for Theme Parks
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I have to be honest, roller coasters were never my favorite, mostly because I get sick on the rides, especially those that spin round and round. Tea cups? Forget it! There is no way I’d make it without getting dizzy and queasy. Ever since I was a child, I always had motion sickness and would need to ride in the front seat on road trips and I still can’t read books in the car to this day. That is usually a sign of overstimulation in the brain, which causes it to get off balance.
I think most kids experience some type of motion sickness at one point, especially when it comes to amusement parks, but ironically enough, there are many children out there who don’t have enough sensory stimulation in the brain to get dizzy. That means they can spin and spin forever and not get sick or lightheaded. Their bodies crave the motion, which is why you may see kids riding the tea cups multiple times or any ride that continues that spinning motion.
So does that mean amusement parks are good for my child even if they are scared of large crowds and tend to have meltdowns in those types of situations? It really depends on the child and what type of sensory input they need. If a child tends to shy away from crowds and doesn’t like to be touched (meaning too much sensory input), amusement parks may be difficult for them, but if your child loves crashing into furniture, bean bags and wrestling with their siblings (not enough sensory input), that is usually a sign they need that extra sensory input to help their bodies calm down and focus. Theme parks are great for sensory play and honestly, most kids need some type of sensory play whether it is more or less. It’s all about finding the right balance for your child.
If you are planning a trip to Disneyland or any other amusement parks and water parks this year, the best approach is to make some minor adjustments to help your child cope throughout the day. A few simple tricks can make all the difference and will create a positive experience for the whole family.
Here are a few tricks to try with your child as you prepare to take them to an amusement park. A combination of these ideas can help balance your child’s emotions and reduce their anxiety.
Before you make it to the amusement park, you may want to do a few trial runs. Take your child to the store or the mall where there are lots of people. See how they interact and if they get too overwhelmed with what is going on around them. You may even want to take them to an arcade or bowling alley where there are lots of lights and sounds to see their reaction. These types of activities give you a preview of what your child may experience when you go to the amusement park and will prep them for when they finally arrive at the amusement park. Another part of prepping early means preparing the night before. If you are traveling, you may want to have them swim at the pool in the hotel, play at a local park or carry in the luggage. These types of heavy-weighted activities actually sooth kids with sensory issues and relaxes them so they have less anxiety.
Handling the Crowds
This is one of the most difficult for sensory kids. They may have a hard time being touched by other people or being crowded in confined places, especially when they are standing in lines and could be in enclosed areas with lots of people. The key is to try and make your child as comfortable as possible. Bringing noise-cancelling headphones can really help your child or even better, you can have them bring their iPod so they can listen to calming music while they stand in line.
If they are sensitive to bright light, don’t forget to bring their sunglasses. Try to space out how you move forward in the line giving them plenty of room to not feel claustrophobic. If they are feeling anxious in close proximity to others, try a few jumping jacks or stretching activities in line. Massaging their legs and arms might also help since that deep pressure in needed to release the tension. You may also want to go to the amusement park on a week day when it is less crowded. When all else fails and you can feel a meltdown coming on, you may need to relax on a bench away from people for a while or even take a short break in the car to regroup. Short breaks can help them regain themselves and give them enough energy to keep going later in the day.
Watch and Observe
Like we mentioned earlier, theme parks are great for sensory seekers who need that constant movement to help them feel in control. As you go on each ride, watch and observe how your child reacts to each of the rides. If your child wants to go on one of the rides over and over again, it usually means they not only like it, but they need that movement to provide the sensory stimulation their body is craving. You may have to let them go on the bumper cars or teacups by themselves after a while if you tend to get sick, but it will be worth it.
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Ask for Special Accommodations
Before you head to Disneyland or other amusement parks, try to contact them first about any special accommodations they may offer for special needs kids. This may not mean you will get to the front of the line, but they may have programs in place to help children feel more stress-free.
Divide and Conquer
If your child is prone to too much sensory stimulation, it might be overwhelming for them to go with all their siblings. This may mean your other children will have to go with your spouse or partner while you take your other child on some of the rides separately. That way they can go on the rides they enjoy and it won’t cause them further anxiety.
Bring your own Snacks
It’s easy for kids to want those delicious sugary and salty foods that they provide at amusement parks and it is almost too hard to pass up, but children with sensory needs will want to avoid unhealthy foods the day you go to the amusement park. Sugary and salty foods can escalate meltdowns and tantrums. Bringing safe foods you know they will enjoy helps them have the energy to keep going and they are also familiar with the textures and flavors.
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Parades and Light Shows
We all love the beautiful light shows, concerts and magical parades many of the amusement parks put on for kids, but sometimes these flashing lights and crowded places can be too much for sensory kids to handle. You may need to skip these events altogether if you child is unable to deal with it appropriately, but if your child really wants to go, ask a park representative for a place that may be off to the side or a less crowded area where your family can stand so they don’t feel overwhelmed. Find a quick exit strategy as well in case they get too scared or you need to leave early to avoid exiting with the rest of the crowds.
If the amusement park you are at has a water park, definitely make a point to go there. Water activities are some of the best for children who are sensory sensitive. Swimming gets their muscles working and the slides provide additional movement for stress-relief. The water parks that have the huge buckets of water that fill up and then dump on you are wonderful for sensory kids because it provides the deep pressure their body needs. You can also fill these same sensory needs if there is a log ride or water ride in the main park area.
Sensitive to Smell
If your child is sensitive to certain smells, it’s a good idea to bring cotton balls or other types of soothing scents with you to help calm them while you stand in line. Essential oils are easy to carry in your bag for when your child needs a quick breath of a calming scent or a small dab on their wrists or neck may do the trick to prevent gagging or queasiness from smells that may bother them.
Going to amusement parks is not only a great activity for the family, but a wonderful opportunity for children with sensory issues. Because each child is different, some may struggle more than others, but you can still create a positive experience and many fun memories for your children. Little by little, they will feel more comfortable in their surroundings when they have the right intervention to calm their anxiety and stress when the family goes to these types of parks.
Integrated Learning Strategies is a Utah-based center dedicated to helping mainstream children and children with learning challenges achieve academic success. Our services provide kids with non-traditional tutoring programs within the Davis County, Kaysville, Layton, Syracuse, Farmington, and Centerville areas. Areas to find Integrated Learning Strategies include: Reading tutors in Kaysville, Math tutors in Kaysville, Common Core Tutors in Kaysville, Tutors in Utah, Utah Tutoring Programs
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